Monday, May 07, 2007

“Something New”

Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4-14[1]

It was the “preacher” of Ecclesiastes who perhaps said it first—there’s nothing new under the sun. That sentiment would have sounded strange about 50 years ago. In the decade of my childhood, the sixties, there was still a sense of optimism about the future. We were just venturing into space, and every new technological breakthrough inspired us to dream about the progress that lay ahead.

But something broke that spirit. Was it political scandal—learning that our leaders misused their office and lied to us? Was it the violence of wars both cultural and actual? Was it social upheaval—the speed of change growing more and more dizzying? Was it simply the process of urbanization—more and more people stacked on top of each other in our cities making life more and more frustrating? Somehow, somewhere along the way, our optimism for the future was broken. For most of us, the future is something we fear. It seems that life gets harder and harder and the future seems to hold only unseen and unknown difficulties.

Of course, that’s not the case for young people. For them, it’s the future that defines them. Not only in their eyes, but also in our eyes. We see them as full of potential.[2] When we talk about them, the conversation inevitably turns to what their plans are for school or career.

But at some point, we all cross a line somewhere and we no longer see ourselves as “young people” any more. We tend to shift our attention from our future to our children’s future. While that is a normal part of life, unfortunately it also tends to mean that we no longer have a “future.”[3] We tend to call it the “mid-life crisis.” But the loss of a “future” is one that we shouldn’t take too lightly. It is in fact a catastrophic loss; it can be deadening, because only those with a future have hope.[4]

The heart of the Bible’s promise is that we all are people with a future. I think one of the most important tasks Christians face in this day and age is to reclaim our hope and our future. I’ll give you a hint, though; it looks nothing like the frightening fire and brimstone predictions of Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye!

The future that the Bible promises us is construed in many ways. Isaiah pictured it in terms of the blossoming of a desert into a lush and verdant land. He also depicts the future as a great feast where everyone has a place at the table and more than enough to eat and drink. The Revelation of John uses the image of a city of light that is set in the midst of a new paradise, the Garden of Eden restored.

In these and other ways the Bible points us toward a future that consists of a wonderful life—free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and death! It points us to a life that is beautiful—full of love and joy and freedom. All our images of utopia pale in comparison—a “place in the sun”, where “the hills are alive with the sound of music” and the fields are all “fields of dreams.”

Of course, the fact is that all people everywhere have dreamed these dreams. Throughout time there have been various images of paradise. Despite the pain and suffering in the world, or perhaps precisely because of it, people throughout history have cherished dreams of a perfect world.[5]

But there is a difference. The promise of a future in the Bible is not just wishful thinking. This future rests on the promise of the God who raised Jesus from the dead.[6] This future rests on the reality of God’s Spirit creating faith and hope where there is nothing to believe in or hope for.[7] This future, this hope, this promise rests on the new life opened for us all by Jesus the Christ. It is the witness of Scripture that Jesus’ death and resurrection broke the power of death that overshadows so much of what we experience in this world and marked the dawn of a new life that is still breaking through the clouds.[8]

That is our future; that is the “new thing” that God is doing; that is the future that defines us all. What if we really believed that? What difference would it make for us? I think it would fill us with enthusiasm for life. I think it would give us courage to love—truly give ourselves away in love. I think it would give us a perspective on things we tend to occupy ourselves with—things that don’t really amount to much in comparison with what God is doing in this world. I think it would enable us to see everybody in a whole new light—as those who are destined for this future.[9]

We usually think of Lent as a time for changing our lives through mourning and penitence. But part of what re-orients our whole being toward the Gospel is the promise of a future that is beyond all imagining. The promise that the one who created us and who loves us will come to finish the work he has started forges for us a future and a hope that has the power to inspire even the most skeptical among us.[10]

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/25/07 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Cf. J. Moltmann, In the End—The Beginning, 3-10.

[3] This is true not only experientially, but also in modern philosophy; see Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, II:96.

[4] Weber, II: 99, suggests that without this hope of a future, our lives here boil down to “the loving care and tending of graves”!

[5] Cf. Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember, 29-30.

[6] Weber, II:99, reminds us that the one who promises a new creation is the one who created all things in the beginning and who “does not surrender his creation to the fate of death”! Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, III:345, says, “The same God who in Christ assures me of His love, assures me also in Him of its eternal fulfillment.”

[7] J. Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 191; he also says that the Spirit “makes enslaved creation live and fills everything with the powers of the new creation.”

[8] Weber, II:97-98; Brunner, III:346, 366; Moltmann, Church in the Power, 98-100; cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 311-12.

[9] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 78, 82-85, 88-89, 164-189.

[10] Brunner, III:374.

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